LIAR! LIAR! YOUR CANDIDATE’S RESUME IS ON FIRE!

by Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg

Parents of aspiring college students aren’t the only ones weaving tales of academic achievement, award-winning experiences, and outstanding accomplishments. Job Seekers are guilty of embellishing their resumes just as often.

Employers tend to treat resumes as facts, forgetting that a resume is simply a marketing tool for applicants. Candidates have done their job search homework and know that, no matter how favorable the market it, it’s imperative they present themselves as positively as possible to land the role they want. But do you really know who you’re hiring? Without a doubt, a shiny resume is appealing. But it becomes a real problem when a resume crosses the line into fraud and lies and should be shelved in the fiction section of your local library.

So, how are you to know if the applications that come across your desk are legit?

Here are the 5 most common resume lies candidates tell and what you can do to fish them out before it’s too late.

Lie #1: Education & Degrees

Education verification is one of the easiest lies to unearth. With the literal world at your fingertips, researching the degrees and certifications offered by 4-year universities and colleges as well as community colleges, is as simple as a few clicks. If a candidate lists a degree from a school you’ve never heard of or can’t find much information about online, you’ve got yourself a bright red flag. Even small and obscure schools should be found relatively easily online. Do your research! Diploma mills exist!

Additionally, beware of legitimate schools but false degrees. One tell-tale sign of a resume lie is when a candidate doesn’t put the type of degree she earned. If her resume reads “earned a Bachelor’s Degree” instead of “Earned a Bachelor’s Degree of Science (BS) or Fine Arts (FA”) something is fishy.  Enlisting the services of a degree verification company is a surefire way to avoid both of these problems. A reputable company can verify student enrollment, certifications, degrees attained, and graduation.

Lie #2: Employment History

False employment history can take on several forms. The first is duration of employment. When a candidate lists his start and end dates as year-to-year instead of month and year, this is a signal that job gaps or length of employment are fabricated. Verify this by checking public profiles to see if they are in alignment with what is presented on the resume. The second most common, and least caught by potential employers, is falsifying who the candidate is employed by. Job Seekers know Big Names enhance their resumes and help them rise to the top of the pile. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a candidate who a contract employee for Employer A and assigned to work on a project for Big Name Company B, to claim to be employed by the Big Name Company. This isn’t true. They are cutting out the middleman to include a big name on their resume and falsifying their employment history. The correct (and honest) place to highlight working with Big Name Company is within the job description.

Lie #3: Job Titles & Duties

A recent study by Robert Half’s OfficeTeam found that job experience (75%) and duties (55%) were cited as the two areas most frequently embellished on resumes. Note: We are not talking about using trendy job titles, such as the old transition from ‘secretary’ to ‘assistant to the executive officer’. The embellishments job seekers most often use are blatant misrepresentations of the level and duties of the job. In regard to job titles, watch out for those that are not in alignment with the candidate’s education and experience level or titles that do not follow a logical progression. Keep an eye out for large jumps up the ranks in a short period of time in one organization or between two jobs (i.e. administrative assistant to assistant manager). Falsified duties and responsibilities are masked in vague descriptions or overly used keywords without evidence to support them. To verify experience, ask specific questions about title and responsibilities. Additionally, conduct reference checks to verify the information.

Lie #4: Achievements

The best way for a Job Seeker to shine, is to prove how invaluable her contributions would be to your organization using hard numbers. Fabricating these numbers is not difficult (improved budgets, number of sales closed, ROI on a marketing campaign) and many candidates assume an employer won’t invest time and resources into investigating. While that may be true, there are other ways for employers to root out the truth. If there are certain skills needed for the job, have all applicants pass a proficiency test. This will weed out applicants who exaggerated their skills. During an interview, present real-life examples where an applicant’s abilities and experience will be put into practice. If time and resources permit, consider requiring a project to be completed or outlined as part of your screening process.

HR expert Matthew Burr, founder of the resource consultancy Burr Consulting, LLC, warns employers to listen for too much “I” instead of “we”. “If the candidate is taking too much credit or claims responsibility individually for something that was clearly a team effort, he wants to know more about the person’s actual role in the accomplishment.”

Lie #5: References

Speaking to someone your candidate directly worked for and with gives you an accurate assessment of their soft skills while simultaneously verifying the hard skills and experience they claimed on their resume. The inability to verify employment is a red flag. If a candidate lists an organization on her resume, it is assumed that employer can and will be contacted. However, it is important to take into account the confidentiality of an applicant’s job search. Perhaps give a “pass” with the current employer if the candidate is conducting a confidential search. In all other cases, even employers that do not give references (as a matter of policy) should be able to confirm employment at a minimum. Not all employers are willing to give specifics, but their responses (or in some cases, lack of responses) are very telling. To ensure you are contacting the right people, acquire phone numbers independently rather than relying on the number provided by the applicant. This reduces the chances you’ll be calling someone who has agreed to lie for the candidate. Learn how to gather relevant information to help you make an informed hire by watching our Effective Reference Checking Part 1 and Part 2 videos.

When a candidate’s resume misrepresents things like past job titles and responsibilities, employment dates, skills, experience, or their academic credentials, you waste valuable time and run the risk of making a bad hire. This a significant waste of resources and an expensive mistake to rectify. More importantly, if a candidate got the job fraudulently, he or she is likely to be a poor performer in the job. So keep a critical eye on the resumes that cross your desk.

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